When measuring a point on an isolated circuit board with my grounded oscilloscope, I fear my oscilloscope ground will pull the measured point to ground level but this has never happened, I am always getting the expected values. Can somebody explain to me the logic behind this?

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Does the oscilloscope just subtract the voltages between two probes or the voltage difference between oscilloscope's ground probe and lower side of Z1 resistance effect anything?

  • \$\begingroup\$ How conductive do you think a transformer is between different coils? \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2016 at 10:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ its not conductive , why would it be called isolated if it conducts ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dogus Ural
    May 4, 2016 at 10:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then how could the probe pull the voltage down to ground? \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2016 at 10:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ search for 'differential probe' \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2016 at 10:58
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @VladimirCravero Why should he search for that? That is not what the question is about. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    May 4, 2016 at 11:15

2 Answers 2


The oscilloscope will show the voltage difference between the tip of the probe and the ground of the probe. Most scopes have 1 MΩ resistance between tip and ground, so the voltage you are measuring is affected the same as putting a 1 MΩ resistor between the two points you are connecting tip and ground to.

For many circuits, 1 MΩ is high enough to not alter the voltage much. For example, CMOS digital logic signals have impedances of 10s to 100s of Ohms typically. 1 MΩ on even a 1 kΩ source is only going to cause a 0.1% voltage change.

For cases where 1 MΩ is too low, you can switch the probe to "10x" mode. This makes its impedance 10x higher, so 10 MΩ. That's good enough for most circuits. That's also the typical resistance of a voltmeter.

There is one extra wrinkle for line powered (as apposed to battery powered) scopes. The scope chassis is usually connected to the line ground, which should be connected to earth ground in the building you are in. That means you can't just put a scope probe anywhere. You have to consider that the probe ground clip is connected to earth ground.

This generally doesn't matter for circuits on your desk running from isolated power supplies. It's a real issue when trying to measure anything line-connected. This is one reason isolation transformers are often used when working on line-connected equipment in a lab.

Your diagram actually shows this. Note how one side of the AC line and the scope chassis are connected to ground. It also shows a 1:1 isolation transformer. The stuff connected to the right side of the isolation transformer can be at arbitrary DC potential relative to the left side. Put another way, the stuff on the right side is floating. You can connect any one point you choose to earth ground. This is what is being done by connecting the scope probe ground to the junction between Z1 and Z2. That point is now at earth ground.

When floating, any one connection between some point on the circuit and ground won't cause current to flow. Once you make that one connection though, the circuit is no longer floating, and all other voltage are now relative to ground. That means you can get hurt by touching some other point and ground at the same time. You have to be aware that connecting the scope ground clip uses up the one free connection to the rest of the world, and that circuit now has dangerous ground-referenced voltages. If you touch some other part of the circuit and a metal radiator, the chassis of your computer, the scope, or anything else grounded, you can get zapped.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ So the circuit is no longer floating when i touch the junction with my grounded probe ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dogus Ural
    May 4, 2016 at 11:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's the same as if you connect a 1Meg resistor from primary ground to the probed node. \$\endgroup\$
    – lucas92
    May 4, 2016 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is almost a perfect explanation but can somebody eleborate what happens when i touch my earth pin to TP2 ? If electrons need closed loop to flow between two poınts, why would TP2 fall down to earth potential ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dogus Ural
    May 4, 2016 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ It will drop to earth potential but there will notb be any current flow. \$\endgroup\$
    – fifi_22
    Dec 4, 2020 at 7:41

We know exactly one thing about the transformer secondary: The difference from Vtop to Vbottom will be Vs. That's it. Nothing else!

The difference from Vtop to ground or Vbottom to ground is completely unknown and not "set" to anything in particular. The entire secondary is floating. You are free to ground either the top or bottom with the scope probe ground clip. (But not both, obviously.)

As soon as you make one of those connections, that node becomes ground and the other part of the secondary is Vs away from that, which is what the transformer enforces.

By extension the node TP2 is fair game for attaching ground, too.


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